American Canyon residents packed the City Council chambers Monday night to hear a bevy of local and state officials discuss what’s become the dominant issue in town: transportation.
Moderated by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, a panel of politicians and transportation experts spent an hour and a half telling a standing-room-only crowd what solutions to expect that will alleviate the gridlock that has come to clog local streets as well as Highway 29.
The panelists included Councilmember Mark Joseph, County Supervisor Belia Ramos, City Manager Jason Holley, Napa Valley Transportation Authority Executive Director Kate Miller, Caltrans Director Tony Tavares, and John Woodbury, general manager of the Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District.
Relief will not be immediate, according to the panelists, and near-term answers will be modest, such as installing new technology to adjust traffic signals at highway intersections during peak commutes.
Longer term and bigger projects — like extending Newell Drive and Devlin Road — will take years to bring about and require more development in American Canyon in order to help pay for these multi-million-dollar efforts.
Councilmember Joseph, who serves on the board of the Napa Valley Transportation Authority, told the audience that the objective is to create “capacity and flexibility” as part of a new network of roads, including those paralleling Highway 29.
“The good news is we’re getting close to completing” Devlin Road, said Joseph.
Two segments must be built — one by the city and the other by Napa County, totaling $14 million in costs — to make Devlin an alternative route west of the highway for cars and particularly commercial trucks to utilize.
Joseph said a fully connected Devlin could be available within three years, giving motorists another way of traveling between American Canyon and Napa.
Another parallel road east of Highway 29 is also planned with the northward extension of Newell Drive so it will connect either with the highway or South Kelly Road.
But, Joseph said, it will take money and years before Newell is fully built out. The city alone can’t afford to build the extension and is relying on developers to pay large portions of the cost, he said.
The developers behind Watson Ranch have agreed to extend Newell to the northern boundary of the project. But more construction will still be necessary to connect Newell to the highway or South Kelly Road.
Joseph said another developer, whom he did not name, has agreed to help pay for the final extension as part of new development being discussed for northeastern American Canyon.
Once Newell and Devlin are fully completed, motorists will have two ways to bypass the highway through American Canyon, which should reduce traffic congestion, according to Joseph and other officials.
The city also wants the highway through most of town expanded to six lanes. But that costly project is largely up to Caltrans because it controls the highway.
Caltrans sent Tony Tavares, its District 4 director, to Monday’s panel discussion. Tavares mostly talked about his agency’s statewide role, but he did mention that Caltrans is working with the city to install new equipment that will allow the agency to monitor traffic on the highway and adjust the timing of traffic signals when things get clogged in American Canyon.
Caltrans is also working with NVTA on ways to improve transportation in American Canyon, according to NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller.
Miller did not offer specifics, saying the two agencies want to focus on solutions that offer the “most bang for the buck.” More details will come, she said, along with public outreach to gain feedback from residents.
She also mentioned plans to change the intersection of Highway 29 and Soscol Ferry Road, creating a north-south overpass and roundabouts to improve the flow of automobiles. Construction on this project might begin in two years, she said.
Panelists brought up the importance of SB 1, which raised the gas tax and certain fees to generate more revenues for transportation projects throughout California.
SB 1 came up again and again in part because it is being threatened by a ballot initiative, Prop. 6, which would repeal the law.
County Supervisor Belia Ramos told the crowd to “vote no on Prop. 6” because the repeal of SB 1 would be a “tremendous detriment to the county” and the additional monies it will provide for local transportation projects.